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1954 Commander Wiring and Fuse Help Please

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  • Electrical: 1954 Commander Wiring and Fuse Help Please

    I'm going through this '54 Commander Starliner, inside, outside, and underneath. For the most part I am very happy with what I have found. On the plus side, the car is remarkably rust free everywhere, and the body and frame are in excellent condition. The stainless, chrome, small parts, and glass also are in amazing condition. No signs of rust or accident repair. The engine starts and runs well, and the suspension, steering, brakes, and exhaust all look good. It's a cross between an original survivor and a mild frame on restoration.

    Possibly the biggest negative found so far is the wiring. The car has been converted, at least partially, to 12 volts. The new alternator seems to work well, as does the starter. The exterior lights, front and back, and the windshield wipers all work. The amp gauge and oil pressure gauge (mechanical I assume) work.

    Beyond that, it needs electrical help. The interior lights and dash lights do not work. The horn does not work. The radio does not work. The fuel gauge, even though the car has a new tank and sending unit, does not work. (The needle seems to hang limply off to the left, so I suspect it needs a replacement gauge.) Not sure about the temp gauge yet.

    I started taking apart the gauge cluster and switch panel above the gauges apart. Then I looked for the fuse panel and, not surprisingly, did not find one. A little poking around this site reveals that there is no central fuse panel. While my head was stuck there under the dash, I noticed lots of old cloth covered wires. A number of the wires seem dry and brittle, and a few have bare spots with copper showing through - obviously not what one wants to find. The battery is disconnected and the car won't move until this is dealt with.

    So, here are a few questions.

    Can someone tell me where to find more or less all of the in line and other fuses and circuit breakers on this car? I would like to check them all. Also, what type of fuses and circuit breakers are used at each of these spots? The owners manual has fuse sizes, but no information beyond that. Are replacements readily available?

    Much of the wiring under the hood and to the front lights has been replaced. But the wiring under the dash looks rather scary. Either I need to take of lot of that apart and replace/tape damaged and brittle wires or install a new wiring harness. If I go the full harness replacement route, would it be a good idea to install a harness with a more modern fuse block? How tough a job is replacing the under dash harness, through to the engine compartment? I see that a number of places sell new harnesses. Can anyone recommend a particular harness that works particularly well?

    Thanks for any help that anyone can give. Not having to figure all this out on my own would make this a lot less painless.

  • #2
    You need to get the shop manual and the two parts manuals. Available from most Stude parts vendors. They are essential not only for what you are doing now, but for all the other projects you WILL be doing during ownership of this car.

    For starters, however, here is the wiring diagram (thanks to one of the best parts suppliers)...

    These cars do just fine on 6 volts. You may want to consider changing whatever was done to partially convert it to 12V back to 6. Fewer headaches and mysteries.

    Original wiring harnesses are available from Studebakers West among others.

    It is possible to completely replace ALL wiring with one of the aftermarket hot rod sets like this...

    ...but it is a fairly major task and takes away from the originality if that is important to you.
    Dick Steinkamp
    Bellingham, WA


    • #3
      New SDC Member and Starliner Owner!

      As was said I believe in one of your prior posts, you certainly started out in Studebakers RIGHT! A '54 Commander Starliner is just the BEST IMO. Congratulations!

      One of the first things to do is get the Studebaker Shop Manual and Chassis and Body Parts Catalogs available in Book or CD Rom Disc. Form. There are wiring Diagrams some of which are also available on Bob Johnstone's Website or

      I would suggest the original replacement Plastic coated and color coded Harness from Studebakers West.

      You will need to determine first though if it is practical to cut the new Harness open and reroute the Generator and Ammeter wires for the Alternator.

      To do a complete 12 Volt conversion, other than connecting the Coil Hot wire to the (+) Terminal instead of (-) and the Battery to Negative Ground for the most part, a 6 Volt Wiring Harness should work fine because it will fit the switches and gauges perfectly.

      It is not difficult to pull the engine side of the old harness out through the firewall and insert the New one the opposite way.

      You will need to find out if a Volt-A-Drop has been used to run the Temp. and fuel Gauges on 6 Volts or a 6-12 Volt Battery or what? So you can figure out that issue. Are they original matching 6 Volt Gauges?

      The only thing I change on my Cars as far as Fuses/Breakers go is protecting the Main Dash Power from the Solenoid to the Ammeter with a in-line, Plug-in 35 or 40 Amp. Fuse so it can quickly and easily be changed on the road if there is a problem.

      There should be a Head light Circuit Breaker in back of the Dash.

      Your Dome Light has grounding switches on the Doors and the Map Light has a Manual toggle Switch to light it and possibly also the Dome light. The Dome Light and Stop Light fuse is on the insulator board for the turn Signal Fuse and Flasher.

      This and other suggestions should at least get you thinking about how you want to do this, you WILL get other suggestions, trust me!

      Here is the link to all of the Studebaker Vendors:
      Last edited by StudeRich; 12-08-2013, 06:34 PM.
      Second Generation Stude Driver,
      Proud '54 Starliner Owner


      • #4
        Thank you for the suggestions made above. Studebakers are a learning experience for me; most of my experience with working on cars comes from GM products.

        When I was young, I recall that the thing to do was to convert the 6 volt cars to 12 volts. The most obvious benefit seemed to be that they would start better, especially in cold temperatures. Also, at least today, 12 volt batteries, bulbs, and various other aftermarket parts are so much more common than those in 6 volts. At this point, it might be more work to convert this car back to 6 volts than to leave it as a 12 volt car. But I do have an open mind on that and would appreciate more information.

        It looks as if all or most of the front and rear wiring has been replaced by previous owner(s). For now at least, the most practical thing may be to cut out damaged wires and replace those.

        I'm wondering about the durability of the original wires, those that don't show obvious damage. Is it possible or even likely that the original wires, for example those wrapped in the bundle that runs through the firewall, could still be in good condition? Or does the coating on those sixty year old wires just deteriorate with age, making replacement the only good plan? I realize that a wire could be damaged, possibly from a short elsewhere on the circuit that overheated the wire, even where it is not subject to physical damage. But, aside from that, could these wires still have lots of life left in them?

        Any thoughts?


        • #5
          Moved to the Tech Talk board.

          Clark in San Diego | '63 Standard (F2) "Barney" |


          • #6
            You have already been given some very good advice from experienced folks armed with the wisdom that comes with the experience. My suggestion is to get that shop manual, take the time to study the wiring schematics that are inside. It lays out the connections and gives the color code, wire size, etc. One thing that folks who lack the experience of intense work of these cars often overlook, is that 6 volt wiring is actually a heavier duty (gauge) wire than twelve volts. Therefore, when changing to 12 volts, keeping the six volt wire sizes is a plus.

            My thoughts on rewiring is to replace the old cloth/rubber coated wiring. I think the wire (conductor) itself is as good (or superior) to modern wire. However, the material used for insulating that wire is certainly not superior and downright dangerous enough to be life threatening if you keep your vehicles stored in an attached garage or one close enough to take out your house if it were to catch fire.

            Someone makes a modern insulated wire with a cloth covering that looks like the vintage wiring. I have not gone to that expense, and choose to simply use less expensive available wiring. (Mainly because I am too cheap to spring for the big bucks.) The main thing, for me, was to stare at and study the wires along with the manual schematics long enough to realize how simple they really are. Using new wire, and that wonderful stuff called "heat shrink tubing" can make some pretty neat wiring harness assemblies and even add additional circuits for future additions of stuff like fog lights, stereos, computers, or just about any other accessory you can think up.

            I have kept my six volt systems original. Not that there is anything wrong with converting to twelve...but for over fifty years, the automotive industry used six volt systems without major problems until folks decided they wanted all kinds of electrical gadgets to play with while merrily rolling down the road. Trouble with a car "starting" on a six volt system is usually a sign that other maintenance on the vehicle is required. Delaying that maintenance by merely jacking up your voltage and cranking reserve is not a cure.

            What ever you do, enjoy the experience. Take your time and make it fun.
            John Clary
            Greer, SC

            SDC member since 1975


            • #7
              If your going to stay with the 12 volt system best to just rewire the whole car with a new wiring harness like painless or some other brand. The money and time will be nothing compared to what you will spend over time and thats not to mention the headaches you will go thogh before you've had enough and pull it all out anyway.


              • #8
                A couple of mistakes are: "Getting the brakes working til I can rebuild" and "For now at least, the best thing may be to cut and replace necessary wiring only. Take the time (from the beginning) to replace the wiring. You are dealing with a neg. ground on the 12V and pos. on the six. Nightmare! Either go back to the 6V or go to 12. If you do decide to mix it up, don't use a volt-a-drop resistor type thingy. Use a more expensive volt regulator 12 to 6. The picture below is my 53 BEFORE other things started, getting rewired. This is where you need to be.


                • #9
                  Lots of good advice. At this point, I'm still trying to assess what was done and how they did it. The basics work, but I would like to get everything working. I most likely will leave it on 12 volts, negative ground, and try to adapt things to that.

                  The old fuel gauge looks rough, so I need to do something with that. Can anyone tell me whether the 6 volt gauge would work on 12 volts, or would I need to do something to adapt it over? It looks as if the tank has a new sending unit.

                  The amp gauge seems to work as is. Until I drive this more, I won't know whether the temp gauge works. From one post I saw, it sounds as if the temp gauge needs an adapter, 12 volts to 6 volts. Ebay has the Runtz units, of various sorts; Flashback, is that the type that you recommend not using? I'm not clear on what would work better - can you explain it to me?

                  The radio is another matter that I just may not tackle, unless there is a relatively simple way to deal with that.


                  • #10
                    Try search internet for: Voltage reducer regulator, billdewey, ebay. This is the one I recommend.


                    • #11
                      Thanks, I probably will get one of those. I wonder whether a 20 amp unit will do everything I need or whether I will need more than one unit. It would be nice to hook up the radio, heater fan, and three gauges. I suppose the horn and wipers are optional and can run on 12 volts, although it's probably best if they also run on 6 volt.

                      Any opinions on this wiring harness on ebay? It looks like a universal fit.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by northern View Post
                        Any opinions on this wiring harness on ebay? It looks like a universal fit.
                        My only opinion is that is a very fair price for a harness that would look close to original.

                        If you want to add more circuits without the classic cloth covered look, I'm using this one from Speedway Motors on my 74 Avanti. It's about as nice a setup as I've used and supplied with a ton of wire.


                        FYI, Bob


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by northern View Post
                          Thanks, I probably will get one of those. I wonder whether a 20 amp unit will do everything I need or whether I will need more than one unit. It would be nice to hook up the radio, heater fan, and three gauges. I suppose the horn and wipers are optional and can run on 12 volts, although it's probably best if they also run on 6 volt.

                          Any opinions on this wiring harness on ebay? It looks like a universal fit.
                          Nice harness and fuse box! Reasonable too.

                          Don't underestimate the chore of rewiring the car, however. Not a slam dunk.

                          This guy knows all there is to know about 6 to 12 conversions...


                          You can install heater, defroster, wiper motors from a later 12V Hawk.
                          Dick Steinkamp
                          Bellingham, WA


                          • #14
                            Thanks again everyone. I've been doing lots of reading on this topic and am learning. My past automotive wiring experience includes the complete wiring and modernizing of a '72 Jeep a few years ago, and I've done lots of wiring to keep old Chevys going. But this is my first experience with a converted (partial) 6v to 12v system.

                            Can anyone tell me more about those four circuit breakers in a cluster on the left side below the dash, right next to the signal light flasher? Do they interrupt and then reset if they detect a short? Or do they blow? If they blow, how can one replace the blown one? They are impossible to get at. On this car, they all work - tested them with a test light and both sides are hot.


                            • #15
                              Use the Runtz voltage regulators, one for the fuel gauge, one for the temp gauge. You need separate ones. The gauges cannot be run on 12 volts, and they are matched to their sending units. Now, if you want to open up the instrument cluster, I think the guts from later model Lark gauges can be made to fit, and if used with their sending units, will work fine. The circuit breakers interrupt, and then reset; with a continuous short, they act like blinkers. Sloooow blinkers. Circuit breakers for six volt service may not give adequate protection for 12 volt circuits, since load current for, say, the headlamp bulbs, is about half as much (for the same wattage lamps). But that style of breaker is common, and new ones of the right current rating for your needs should be available at your local auto parts supplier.
                              Gord Richmond, within Weasel range of the Alberta Badlands